By Dave Wilkin
The past three years have been difficult, leaving many Canadians hurting and concerned about their future as we face a slowing economy and uncertainty around inflation, interest rates, and markets.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh criticizes PM Trudeau for deflecting accountability, pointing out “it’s the PM’s job to make Canada better”. Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre goes further, stating that after seven years under Trudeau, “everything feels broken“, pointing to the healthcare crisis, high inflation, violent crime (up 30 per cent), opioid deaths (up 250 per cent), and half a trillion dollars in new federal government debt.
In response, Trudeau calls Poilievre “irresponsible for exploiting the anger for political gain“ while lacking in future vision. Trudeau says his vision includes an improved healthcare system, a more inclusive/green-powered economy, Indigenous reconciliation, unwavering Ukraine support, and a Canada that is “there for the Global South”. He wraps it all up with a new slogan, “meet this moment”, adding to previous ones like “choose forward” and “build back better”.
So what do Canadians think? A recent Nanos poll indicates more Canadians believe the country is heading in the wrong direction and a Leger poll found that 67 per cent of Canadians agree with Poilievre’s statement that everything feels broken. Multiple polls now show the Conservative Party of Canada pulling ahead of the Liberals. So is this just a blip, or is there a larger shift underway? A closer look at Canadians’ top issues—healthcare, affordability, and the economy—yields some insight.
On healthcare, the much-anticipated meeting between Trudeau and the 13 premiers was mostly political theatre, a carefully choreographed presentation of Trudeau’s plan to appear as though his government was stepping up in a big way. They focused on the $196 billion over 10 years, all but ignoring that just $46 billion is actual new funding. That amount is $4.6 billion annually, a minuscule 1.4 percent of the $331 billion total annual healthcare spend. In 10 years, it’s likely just 1 per cent. It raises the federal government’s share by 2 per cent, to 24 per cent of the total public sector spend (which is 70 per cent of the $331 billion), about one-sixth of the provincial ask. The federal share has fallen for decades.
No doubt fixing the healthcare crisis will take fundamental system changes, most have been well documented, especially significantly growing the frontline service providers. However, big changes take time, and an aging population and high immigration levels accelerate the urgency. The provinces’ fiscal limitations cap the spending increases they can provide. Trudeau avoided action in the past, but public outcry forced him to pivot. However, his high deficit spending ways and many unfulfilled promises (Centre for Public Policy Analysis,) boxed him in. He didn’t ‘meet this moment’, he mostly played politics.
At least there’s some new money, which the premiers grabbed, and a beginning to broader discussions/actions on long overdue nationwide sharing and collaboration.
The fall economic update boldly claimed, ‘no country is better placed than Canada to weather the coming global economic slowdown and thrive in the years ahead’. Are Canadians buying it? Unlikely. We trail most developed countries on debt servicing, productivity gains, and real growth per capita while recovering job growth masks other concerning trends, including much of it being concentrated in lower-skill occupations, a 20-year slide in the labor force participation rate and a faster growing public sector (a 50 percent higher rate than in the private sector).
The economic update forecast for a $36.4 billion federal deficit is outdated, given a slowing economy, rising costs & recent spending announcements. The federal debt servicing cost is on track to double within a few years and former Bank Of Canada chair David Dodge warns about excessive federal deficit spending. It all means little new spending room is left.
Then there’s government waste. The PBO flagged multiple financial transparency problems and blasts the Canada Revenue Agency for saying it’s ‘not worth the effort’ to recover some $15B in COVID wage subsidies. Additionally, Canada’s Auditor General documented poorly targeted COVID spending. More recently we learned of escalating federal government contract spending, reaching $22.2 billion in 2022, up 16 percent in just three years. Over seven years, the Federal Public Service population ballooned 31% to 336,000. That’s triple Canada’s population growth rate and 1.7 times that of the non-federal government public sector growth rate. Now looming, the Public Service Alliance of Canada union’s outrageous 47 per cent 3-year pay increase ask.
On competence generally, the federal government’s missteps continue in the form of Delay of the controversial MAID legislation, withdrawal of the gun control amendment, C75 bail reform tragic consequences, bill C-13 official languages controversy, the anti-Islamophobia debacle and incoherent foreign policy (especially regarding China).
So going into year eight, the federal government looks tired. Trudeau’s personal brand, tightly bound to the Liberal party brand, now drags on it, as his continuing reliance on catchy slogans, photo-ops, tokenism, wedge politics, and deflection wears thin. Even former finance minister Bill Morneau writes about this in his new book, Where To From Here, A Path to Canadian Prosperity. He adds to past criticisms in books from former Liberal MP Celina Caesar-Chavanne , Can You Hear Me Now? and from former Liberal justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould’s ‘Indian’ in the Cabinet’.
As parliament heats up and a pivotal spring budget approaches, I sense a tipping point has arrived. Will Jagmeet Singh or Trudeau himself pull the plug, triggering an early election? Will Trudeau be pushed by powerful Liberal forces to take his ‘walk in the snow’, opening the door for new leadership? As political writer Aaron Wherry eloquently puts it, Trudeau’s “put-up-or-shut-up moment” has arrived.
I remain hopeful, as Canada has so many advantages compared to most countries and Canadians are well-educated, hardworking, and resilient. More voters are now seeing the national leadership failures and are calling for serious actions and real results on their top issues, not visions and promises.
In a future article, I will share the changes I am looking for. Please watch for it!
Dave Wilkin is a Professional Engineer, with a master’s degree in Electrical Engineering from the University of Toronto. His career spans over 40 years in Information Technology, banking, and energy. He is currently a co-owner in a small energy consulting company and lives in Huntsville, Ontario.
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